Peace: Plug it in

Times Staff Writer

THE holidays, mercifully, are over. It's time to unclench that vise wrapped around your chest that made you think you were having a heart attack at the mall. And to pack up your pogo-stick reaction whenever a co-worker poked, "What fun plans do you have for New Year's?"

Yes. It's time to get off your go-go, sleep-deprived track of caffeine and Visine and r-e-l-a-x.

If that doesn't come naturally to you, try something that has been soothing mankind's senses since before we grew opposable thumbs: water. Better than a massage, a shot of booze or seeing your cranky neighbor get hauled away by the police, water -- and the fountains that make it dance, over and over -- is your ticket to Peacefulville.

Ask Carl Kuhns. A soft-spoken man who moves gracefully through his store, Accents by Ann in Culver City, gesturing to ceramic and copper bowls he's made, Kuhns once had a different job: He promoted B1-bombers for Rockwell. But for 20 years, he's been helping people build tabletop fountains to bring down the noise.

Sure, you can buy a water fountain. But to really unwind, you have to select the perfect bowl. Chip and polish a piece of slate. Set the pump speed to make it burble just so. By the end, you'll be breathing easy.

The materials and tools you'll need are at plumbing, home warehouse and water fountain stores.

Start with a well-made, waterproof container that is at least 3 1/2 inches deep and made of copper, brass, stainless steel, bronze or glazed ceramic. Select a shape, size and color that pleases you. Unlike the gifts that flew from your arms into others' as if propelled by a leaf blower, this bowl's for you.

Get a 12-inch square of slate or other natural stone. If you want a fountain with several tiers, pick up a few squares. Kuhns likes slate because it comes in many colors and grains, from Army green to bronze, and water won't erode it; water, in fact, makes the colors more vivid. Fire up a drill with a 3/4-inch masonry bit and buzz a hole into the center of the slate. This is for the pump tubing. Then put the slate on a hard surface -- maybe a cinder block or anvil -- with the prettiest side facing down. Grab a small hammer, think of those chintzy presents you were given, and chip on the edges of the slate to give it a nature-worn look.

By this time, Kuhns has grown attached to you and insists you wear protective goggles and gloves when chipping (and that you find more generous friends). Use course sandpaper to dull the sharp edges.

If you want several tiers, make the bottom piece 2 inches wider than the one on top of it. That means a 10-inch-wide piece, topped by an 8-inch piece, topped by a 6-inch piece....If you get this, your second-grade math teacher will be proud of you.

"The heart of a fountain," whispers Kuhns, as if explaining the meaning of life, "is an adjustable pump." Find one that circulates 30 to 80 gallons an hour max, otherwise you'll blow the quiet you're longing for. Kuhns likes 4.8-watt pumps with flexible electric cords made in Italy -- about $22.

(Later, if water splashes onto your table, adjust the pump to slow the trickle, set pebbles where the water hits and make sure the bottom piece of slate is lower than the lip of the bowl.)

Using a pull saw in a miter box, cut a rod of circular plastic pipe such as ABS sewer pipe so that it is shorter than the height of the bowl. This "riser" supports the first piece of slate. Cut a 2 1/2-inch gap in the pipe; now it looks like one of those C-shaped bracelets you struggle to get on your wrist. The gap lets water flow to the pump.

Now you're ready to assemble. Put the pump in the bottom of the container. Drape the pump cord over the edge of the bowl (you can hide the cord with bamboo, air-breathing ferns or knickknacks). Wrap the riser around the pump. Set the slate on the riser with the pump tubing poking through its hole. For layers of slate, add a spacer -- a 1/2- to 1-inch-tall piece of plastic pipe -- between each slate.

Add enough distilled water ("very important," says Kuhns) to cover the pump. Too much water reduces the sound. And never let the pump run dry.

Finally, plug it in. Listen. Watch. Say, aaaaaah!



Tools of the Trade

Following are some items that are useful when constructing a tabletop fountain.

Waterproof container: Preferably one that is at least 3 1/2-inches deep and is made of copper, brass, stainless steel, bronze or glazed ceramic.

12-inch square of slate or other natural stone: A few if you want tiers.

Drill with a 3/4-inch masonry bit.

Adjustable pump: One that circulates 30 to 80 gallons an hour max.

Circular plastic pipe: Such as ABS sewer pipe.

Bamboo, air-breathing ferns or knickknacks.


Tabletop fountains

What: Building a fountain.

Where: Accents by Ann, 5437 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City.

Info: (310) 398-4151;

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